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It Came from the Far East

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

As regular readers know, I've tried to keep an eye on Asia ever since I started writing about games over 15 years ago. At first, this primarily meant Korea. In recent years, my attention has had two major foci because China has soared into global prominence. So, even though it's difficult to find out more than a fraction of what's going on in that part of the world, there are always topics to interest me, such as these recent ones.

2011 Korean Market Facts and Figures

The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) is a government organization charged with providing support for various sectors of that country's economy including the game industry. Earlier this month, it released its 2011 White Paper on Korean Games. In years past, this publication has had quite a bit of interesting and thought-provoking information.

I've yet to spot the English-language version and can't read any Korean whatsoever. As a result, I'm not in a position to comment on the qualitative portion. However, it's easy enough to figure out what several of the charts and tables show since they appear to be updated from similar ones that were published in the 2010 edition.

First off, the overall market size was pegged at 8.8 trillion won (about $7.9 billion at the current exchange rate) last year, an increase of 18.5% over the 2010 figure of 7.43 trillion. This seems like a pretty positive sign since the rate of growth hasn't been this high since 2005. Notably, that year also saw the previous high water mark of 8.68 trillion won. The total had actually dropped to 5.14 trillion in 2007 before trending back up. 

In addition, it looks like KOCCA has similarly positive expectations for the next while. As best I can discern, it projects that the market will reach 10.53 trillion won in 2012 (19.6% growth). This is anticipated to rise to 12.55 in 2013 (19.1%), then 14.86 in 2014 (18.4%).

These numbers are for the entire domestic market. More to the point here, online weighed in at 6.24 trillion won (70.8% of the total), up from 4.77 trillion (64.2%) in 2010. What's more, it was the engine that drove the overall growth, climbing nearly one-third (30.8%) year over year while all the other sectors added together showed a small decline. Mobile was the second largest gainer, rising about 0.5 trillion.

It's also notable that the paper lists “PC rooms” as a separate sector. In case anyone is still under the impression that Korean gamers predominantly play in cafes, this hasn't been so for a number of years now. Last year, such locations accounted for 1.72 trillion won, or  just 19.5% of the market. This was down around 9% versus 2010.

As for Korea's stature globally, exports, which are stated in dollars, jumped a substantial 48.1%, from $1.61 billion to $2.38 billion. This was almost all accounted for by online, 96.2% to be exact. Not surprisingly, China was the leading buyer, taking 38.2% of the total, followed by Japan (27.4%), Southeast Asia (18%), North America (7.6%), Europe (6.4%), and the rest of the world (2.4%). For this year, KOCCA foresees a smaller but still very healthy 19.9% gain to $2.85 billion.

Taiwanese team wins League of Legends World Championship and $1 million

Earlier this month, the LoL Season Two World Championships saw a squad named the Taipei Assassins emerging victorious and taking home the very handsome winners' prize. The game was developed by US-based Riot Games, but I believe most of the credit for promotions such as this event lie with China's Tencent, which bought the studio and its IP a couple of years ago for somewhere in the neighborhood of $475 million. At the time, this seemed like a rather inflated price. But if the title can support this kind of expenditure, maybe it wasn't so high after all.

Who owns CrossFire?

As I've discussed previously, this online shooter is so popular in China, where it reportedly generated nearly $900 million in revenue last year, that it might become the giant killer, the game that topples World of Warcraft from the global leadership position it has held since soon after launch. It already holds the record for peak concurrent users, having surpassed the four million mark, and is the first title to climb into the same monetary ballpark. Accordingly, I've been watching with interest for news about the dispute that is raging over the title's ownership even though reports have been scarce.

The main parties involved are Korean, and are embroiled in a legal battle. The gist of the situation seems to be that the global publisher, Neowiz, licensed the game to Chinese giant Tencent. That contract will expire next summer. The developer, Smilegate, apparently wants to work out a new deal directly. Neowiz is attempting to block this on the basis of owning the trademark, and is also claiming that it participated in development by creating the database . Meanwhile, Smilegate is trying to get control of the brand name back, and is disputing how much Neowiz actually contributed to the technology.

Since I haven't seen many details, it's difficult to guess how this will be resolved. However, both companies have made a lot of money from CrossFire, and thus have deep war chests. There's also a huge amount at stake, which suggests that even though Korea isn't the world's most litigious nation, this battle could turn out to be a long one in which both sides use all the weapons in their respective armories. That would create quite a shootout, one that might have significant implications for the country's entire game industry. 


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.